"We should envision ourselves as the inevitable architects of future revolutionary systems of communication."

– Lester Beall (learn more here).

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The Social Network Value Curve

I’ve been thinking lately about social networks and the process through which their users find value. It started, of course, with Twitter and how much it’s changed in the fifteen months or so since I signed up. While I still get a lot out of it, there’s no question it’s becoming noisier and less valuable by the day. It occurred to me that the same thing often happens, consistently, in any developing social situation (network, scene, community, etc).

I started formulating ideas about why. I looked to pinpoint the moments where a social network experiences an influx, and consider what that influx does to the experience of those who were there before it happened. Here’s what I came up with (click it to view full-size): 

the social network value curve

Early Adopters get there in time to experience the frontier. They’re the first to establish a presence and they help work out the kinks.

Knowledge Seekers come in while things are on the rise because they’re excited about the possibilities. They aren’t quite as adventurous as the early adopters, but they’re more stable.

Things peak with the arrival of the First Popular Wave. Everything is ironed out, the community is established, and regular folks are moving in. Times are good.

This can go on for awhile, but there’s a crash coming when the Marketers show up. They like to think of themselves as plugged-in, but the truth is they simply see something mature enough to exploit. They’re not exactly spammers, but they’re not good for much.

They help attract the Second Popular Wave, comprised of people who don’t really know what’s going on but figure that they have to be there because all their friends are talking about it. Or they saw it on the cover of Newsweek. Or for no reason at all.

Finally, Spam settles in and the process is complete.

What happens after this stage is entirely up to individual users. I’m not suggesting that a network (or scene, or community) has to fold up and become irrelevant just because it’s reached this stage. There’s work yet to do, if that’s what users want. And, indeed, in Twitter’s case they have built-in protections against the noise becoming overwhelming – users create their own experience to a large extent.

That said, it seems to me that most networks tend to fail at this stage because the noise becomes too much to bear and there is almost certainly a newer and/or better alternative just around the corner. This may or may not be the fate of Twitter, but remember Friendster? Makeoutclub? When was the last time you logged into your MySpace account for anything other than listening to music? What about that bar you used to love but haven’t been to in over a year?

I’m sure there are serious social scientists who covered this ground ages ago, but I wanted to do something that came more from the perspective of the average user. With that in mind, I’m curious: what do you think? Does this graph roughly approximate your experience, or am I missing something? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


This is a Service Business

It seems obvious, but I've seen a surprising amount of evidence that not everyone agrees.

I've met and done business with a lot of people in the creative community, both here in Baltimore and around the country. Most have been great, but some leave me scratching my head. Specifically, the ones doing business like it was still 1990. Or even 2000. Like the world still looks the way it looked the first time they tasted success.

Here's the bottom line, something nobody in this industry can afford to ignore: you're making a huge mistake if service isn't your first priority. 

A lot of creative folks spent some time doing retail and/or restaurant work, and I'm no exception. Some see that kind of thing as nothing more than grunt work that you do on the way from here to there, but I loved it.

For two reasons, primarily:

One, I enjoyed helping people have a good time, find what they were looking for, and leave happier than they came. It didn't work out 100% of the time (it never could), but that's what I strove for with every interaction. 

Two, I learned a ton. There's no better preparation for business than spending time on the front lines, dealing with different kinds of people and learning (a) what their expectations are and (b) how to meet and, ideally, exceed them. 

I try to apply those lessons to my dealings now with clients, partners, and collaborators. Doesn't always work, unfortunately (I can think of one client in particular I wish had gone better), but it's always the goal. Figure out expectations, then meet or exceed them. Simple.

Yet I've encountered, directly and indirectly, plenty of businesspeople who have a weird sense of entitlement. Folks who seem to believe that what they have on offer is so special that they don't actually need to give a damn about the people they're working with.

Simply put, they've lost their way. Quality work matters, for sure, but it's worth a hell of a lot less if you're not trying your damnedest to develop strong relationships along the way.

(photo via)


Blog Archive: Saying More By Saying Less

Note: now that the new site is in place, I'm going to be re-posting some of the most popular content from the old blog (in addition to new writing).

This was a piece I originally wrote in December of 2007, and it received quite a bit of attention. Enjoy.


Knowing when to let go is one key to effective communication.

Whether we like it or not, we’re in a world where the transparent, open-source nature of online activity has fundamentally changed the way people and businesses have conversations. In thinking about how it works and trying to figure out how best to participate, this is the most difficult yet important lesson I’ve learned:

Always let a fool have the last word.

Modern communication has meant a breakdown in authority. Online comment systems and, more broadly, “social media” have given every individual an opportunity to not only have his or her voice heard instantly, but to have it given near-equal weight to that of the original author.

There are plenty of cases, as with Errol Morris’ recent examination of a Crimean War photograph, where this system works marvelously. Strong original content is supplemented and, ultimately, enhanced by the discussion beneath it.

In many cases, however, the results aren’t quite as good. That’s because it’s almost inevitable, in a conversation with enough people involved, that one or more of those people will prove to be a fool. They’ll chime in with something provocatively irrelevant and attempt to draw attention and derail the conversation. This is as true online as it is among a group of individuals at a party or bar; as true with a personal blog as it is with a marketing or service strategy.

Since you usually can’t simply dispatch with the fool, either online or in person, what do you do?

You let him have his say, and leave it at that.

Healthy argument and debate only work when everyone’s a willing participant, and no amount of reason or good sense is going to convince someone whose only goal is to throw a monkey wrench. At the same time, trying to dismiss that person or shut him up will usually just make him go that much harder.

That and it makes you look like a dictator, which you never want to be.

So, give him the last word on the point and move on. Doing so might mean a short-term hit to your pride, but in the long run it helps you build credibility with the people you’re really trying to talk to.

Putting this strategy in place and applying it consistently won’t keep fools away, but it will generally keep them from having any fun. Meaning, ultimately, that they probably won’t stick around for long.

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